Was Jesus Gay? (Part 3 of 3)

Loren RossonJesus was gay?

That’s what Morton Smith wanted us to believe.

And just to be clear at the outset: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the idea that Jesus may have been gay.

But there’s no real evidence hinting that he was–except perhaps in the Secret Gospel of Mark, which is most likely a hoax.

"The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark" by Stephen L. Carlson

“The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark” by Stephen L. Carlson is available from the library in paperback.

If you want a real-life conspiracy thriller, then Stephen Carlson’s Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark is the book for you. It’s a brilliant piece of detective work showing how biblical scholar Morton Smith fooled the academy for decades, with his alleged “discovery” in 1958 of a lost letter containing a fragment of a different version of Mark’s gospel.

Revising the raising of Lazarus
This “Secret Gospel of Mark” tells a story similar to the raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-44. But instead of raising Lazarus, Jesus revives a young man who “looked at Jesus, loved him, and began to beg him to be with him.” Later in the evening, the young man comes to Jesus “wearing a linen cloth over his naked body; and he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God.”

Smith’s “discovery” divided his colleagues. Some accepted the document (never seen by anyone) as genuine, but others thought it a forgery, probably done by Smith himself, who was gay and could now conveniently go on to publish books suggesting that Jesus had sex with the disciples.

His thesis? That Jesus’ baptism ceremonies were used to enter a state of hallucination, and ascend into heaven; in the kingdom of God the disciples were liberated from the Jewish law; and their spiritual union with Jesus was accompanied by a physical union of sex.

Forgery vs. hoax
It took a long time to debunk Secret Mark–until well after Smith’s death in 1991. Carlson’s Gospel Hoax (2005) was the first to uncover embarrassing signs of an elaborate prank, the most notable one being Jesus’ saying about “salt losing its savor” (Mark 9:50; Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:34), which in Secret Mark is reworded to imply free-flowing salt. Iodized salt is not only a 20th-century invention; the inventor was a company named Morton Salt.

But the relationship between hoaxing and forgery remains unclear. Forgery is fraud, and on one level it does seem that Morton Smith really wanted people to believe that Jesus was gay, and invested homosexuality with religious significance.

Carlson insists it’s a hoax:

“Secret Mark functions as a hoax designed to test, not a forgery designed to cheat.” (Gospel Hoax, p. 79)

"Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?" edited by Tony Burke

“Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?” is available from the library in paperback.

There’s no denying that on close scrutiny, Secret Mark keeps breaking down into hilarious jokes. One of the funniest (besides the salt metaphor) is an allusion to the 19th-century play Salome, written by Oscar Wilde, who was a gay martyr. The gospel figure of Salome is used in conjunction with a particular phrase from the play, in order to imply that Jesus wanted nothing to do with women. This joke was spotted by Peter Jeffery, working independently of Carlson.

So maybe fraudulent and hoaxing motives were both at work.

But I shouldn’t imply that Smith’s forgery/hoax has been put to bed, because believe it or not, it still has defenders. A few months ago a series of debates was published, Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? Check it out, and enter the storm of a controversy that’s unlikely to die in the near future.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

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